Saturday, November 29, 2003


Because I've been busy and callously missed this - I am sending the very best of happy (belated) birthday wishes to Molly - my friend and inspiration. Wish you were here - or me there!

And you now have nine months to plan to miss my 32nd trip around the sun ;)

Friday, November 28, 2003

Bodies in Motion

Phil Smith (of Wrights and Sites) constructs A Short History of the Future of Walking:

All places are “migrant.” And our selves, similarly; not simple, single points of consciousness slipping across neutral planes, but selves that are motion and in motion within and without, extended ‘organisms’ shaped and shaping relations with each other, reacting to and adapting the geometry of inanimate geographies, cultural transmissions and ideology’s reproductive system, moving about basins of attraction, patterned and patterning; a self as likely as any place to be “just passing through” ...

The meeting and passing of the shapes of place and self is the meeting and passing of two migrations. But there is no necessary equilibrium in their meeting. Nor in those meetings’ encodings on the places themselves. Nor, in the conceptualising of the meetings by the selves that were there, is there a neutrality in their geometry...

The act of walking become autobiographical – not as the placing of a point on a plane, but as the shifting of patterns in relation to others.

Continuing his work in Natural Interaction - I posted about PointAt some time ago - Alessandro Valli has created Retina:

A light weight real time computer vision module for natural interactive interfaces, Retina allows designers and researchers to substitute mouse and keyboard with body motions, gestures, positions of objects and people. It can be easily connected to C/C++, Java, Flash MX, Director applications. Retina is a tool for the creation of interactive spaces, interactive art installations, entertainment and edutainment systems.

You can download a beta copy of Retina, along with documentation and sample code here.

Bodies in motion.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003


Joey gave a really good talk today on the current status of wearable computing and reactive textiles. She mentioned that 90% of research in these areas is still being funded (directly and indirectly) by the US military, which reminded me of Abbate's Inventing the Internet and how it's easy to forget the provenance of much new technology, but it is not irrelevant.

For example, Sensatex "smart shirts" were originally developed at Georgia Tech with funding from the US military's 21st Century Land Warrior Program and DARPA. The shirt was first designed to sense a "discontinuity" or hole in the fabric indicating the site of a soldier's wound. The shirt would then communicate with central command to inform them of the location of the wound and thereby help them decide whether or not they needed to dispatch medical assistance. (I wonder what it said? Discontinuity .5 inches from heart left ventricle. No need to send assistance.?) Anyway, now the shirts are used to protect elderly people and children.

[Aside: FORCE XXI. The Army of 2000 and beyond. "It will require that everything be lightweight and miniaturized, and that soldiers be fully integrated into a digitized battlefield." And some may remember connections between Force XXI, Honeywell and oil refineries.]

When I first saw Joey give a presentation almost two years ago on her and Maggie Orth's work at International Fashion Machines I was stunned. For the first time I began to believe that we could design wearable technologies that honour what it means to be human and social. (I've always been turned off by virtual reality; working for years as an archaeologist taught me to value material culture.) And Joey is very good about reminding us Why We Need Things - following Csikszentmihalyi in History from Things (which also reminds me of one of my archaeology favourites, Learning from Things). She reminded me of C's points that objects serve as symbols of personal power and social status; as symbols of social relationships and connections; and, my favourite, as symbols of the continuity of self through time - of our involvement in the present, mementos of our past and projections of our future. Brilliant.

She talked about costuming as an entrenched cultural practice - I was reminded of Liz Goodman's demonstration of intimacy in costuming - and wearables as "second skin." Reactive fashion (or "softwear") works with the idea of changing our skin, our identity, our cultural context - of playing. But mostly I love that Joey begins with something that already works well - textiles - and that always already conjures protection, warmth, intimacy, identity ... After all, isn't clothing our oldest interface to the world, responsible, at least in part, for great loves and devastating wars? I doubt we could come up with something more *wearable* than clothes!

Anyway, it seems that electronic textiles are still technologically elusive - living more in SF and funding proposals than anywhere else. But my money is still on the good people working in soft computing. They're starting from the right place.

Also interesting today: CNET reports that "Applied Digital Solutions is hoping that Americans can be persuaded to implant RFID chips under their skin to identify themselves when going to a cash machine or in place of using a credit card."

VeriChip Corporation - Miniaturized, Implantable Identification Technology - helping you Get Chipped™!

Last month the US military declared that all suppliers must use RFID by 2005. "I think we'll get cooperation from industry," says Stewart. " Suppliers can not afford not to implement this technology."

The curious lure of "fashion dolls"

A few years ago I became interested in vintage barbies. I had no idea there was this huge barbie collector subculture and that some dolls sell for thousands of dollars ... But Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy has always been one of my favourite Simpsons episodes and I now totally appreciate Smithers as a hardcore Malibu Stacy collector!

Apparently I am an *awful* vintage barbie collector because I don't care if they're reproductions instead of originals, and I'm going to throw out the box so I can actually play with her. I just prefer the way they used to look.

Right now I'm obsessed with some dolls in the Silkstone Fashion Model Collection - these are barbies for people who believe that barbies are only fashion dolls - and how can that be bad?! Honestly, the entire feminist critique of barbies went right past these folks - it's bizarre! And the dolls are stunning and the clothes are gorgeous.

I recently ordered this beauty and regularly scan ebay for one of these and one of these. And in all likelihood I will buy their version of the geek girl!

I will also probably buy one of these. I mean, wow, they actually pitch Asian dolls as "exotic". Be still my well-dressed imperialist heart!

(But believe it or not, I can't bring myself to buy any of the Dolls of the World Collection ... they are just too strange. The World Princess Collection is no less weird, but comes with prettier clothes.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Today I am

1. Re-reading Eric Laurier and Chris Philo 's X-morphising: review essay of Bruno Latour’s "Aramis, or the Love of Technology". Excellent stuff.

2. Reading Susan Newman's Here, There, and Nowhere At All: Distribution, negotiation, and virtuality in postmodern ethnography and engineering - found via Lucy Suchman's brilliant Sociality of Information Technologies course at Lancaster.

3. Going out for dinner with the fascinating fabulous Joey Berzowska - who will be lecturing on Wearable Technology and Soft Computation at the NRC tomorrow morning.

Also looking forward to meeting speaking more with Steve Marsh - who leads the Socially Adept Technology and Advanced Collaborative Environments research programmes at the NRC-IIT.

More later.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Mobile Creativity

Now, doesn't that sound more fun than 'distributed intelligence'?

If you're in the UK this week, check out SimpleTEXT : Jonah Brucker-Cohen and Tim Redfern's collaborative audio/visual public performance that relies on audience participation through input from their mobile phones. (Commissioned, sponsored and funded by Low-Fi.)

If you aren't in the UK (and even if you are) go speak your mind in the Eyebeam Distributed Creativity Forum here or here.

In the Subversion and the city thread, people are discussing the "possibilities for mobile technologies to function like the 'tool' of the skateboard in urban spaces ... [and] the opportunities that exist for art/design to facilitate this interplay."

And in Welcome to Distributed Creativity Forum we are asked: "A new generation of networking technologies is expanding creativity beyond the 20th-century Web into mobile, peer-to-peer, and other distributed platforms. Artist and activists have begun to hijack these distributed media for creative ends. What kinds of new communitites are produced by these artistic interventions?"

The raw and the uncooked

Rugby World Cup - Australia v Ireland Barbara Kruger - You construct intricate rituals which allow you to touch the skin of other men

Yesterday we got up at 4AM to watch the Rugby World Cup final. After all, it's impossible for me not to love a sport that has rules around blood-loss and doesn't let you pass the ball forwards. (Oh, and those tight English jerseys look good and Jonny Wilkinson is, um, dead sexy.)

Seriously, I think rugby is beautiful to watch. Sure I'm captivated by the skill, strength and endurance ... It's just so urgently physical and makes me think of the simple joys of the flesh: burning lungs, aching muscles, screaming excitement, every sense lit right up. Brilliant.

But I'm also fascinated by how much these men touch each other. I always liked this Barbara Kruger piece: it points at boundaries around masculinity, and how men subvert these boundaries. Sort of like rugby.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Rise. Gulp. Submerge. Rise. Float.


Two papers written, one poster designed. Another paper accepted for the MUM 2003 Workshop (draft version here). Getting ready to mark final exams.

Consulting work wrapping up. The thesis continues to gel. My January trip to the UK almost finalised. (And I would just note that applying for university funding is super tedious work.)

Lancaster University - Alternative Mobility Futures (Lancaster)
University of Surrey - Approaching the City: Alternative Urban Studies (Guildford)

Case Study Research & Seminar Presentations:
CityWide Performance - University of Nottingham / Blast Theory (Nottingham & London)
Mobile Bristol - University of Bristol / HP Labs (Bristol)
Texting Glances - Media Lab Europe / Trinity College Dublin (Dublin)
Urban Tapestries - Proboscis / LSE (London)

Drifting with Wrights & Sites (Exeter)

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Silence already broken

Via Giles Lane: the Urban Tapestries project - one of my thesis case studies - will be conducting a free public trial of the technology in December.

Since I won't be there until January, I would love to hear from anyone who tries it out, please!

To demonstrate an advanced prototype of the Urban Tapestries public authoring platform, Proboscis will run a 9 day public trial in the Bloomsbury area of London in December 2003. Participants in the trial will be able to borrow a wireless device running the Urban Tapestries client software to drift around the highlighted area authoring and accessing local content for a session of up to two hours. Book now.

And now back to the circus!

Monday, November 17, 2003

Running away with the circus - Part II

A week with the circus is just what I needed, but now I've found the circus sideshow and this is really my kind of place! Regular service will resume later ...

Muy bueno reading : Cultural Usability | Jens Christoffersen and Thomas Angermann | Jonah Brucker-Cohen | Belle de Jour | Scott Lederer

Or join the conversations at the new Ivrea Intersections weblog - most recently focussed on last week's Foundations of Interaction Design Symposium. Great work Molly and everyone else!

Saturday, November 15, 2003

if I could be ubiquitous ...

... today I would choose to be in Vancouver / Edmonton / Calgary / Toronto / Ottawa / New York / San Francisco / Glasgow / London / Dublin / Varese / Ivrea / Göteborg / Stockholm / Amsterdam.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Quick resurface.

Eric Paulos and Elizabeth Goodman have posted all their work on the Familar Stranger Project: anxiety, comfort and play in public places. Excellent.

(Liz and Michele Chang have also done some good work on the fiasco project too.)

Speaking of intimacy, here's Wired: "Thanks to the ability of Apple's iTunes to share music collections over local networks, it is now possible to judge someone's taste in music -- or lack of it -- in a way that previously required a certain level of intimacy."

(Still, context is everything. After checking out my list, you would never know I was once seduced by that excellent Bongwater cover of Roky Erickson's You Don't Love Me Yet or that if I were trying to seduce someone I might use Polvo's Fast Canoe ... )

Liz also points out Urballoon : an interactive communication balloon.

And still thinking about movement, there's designing for street-skating:

Most skateboarders consider themselves street skaters but good city spots are far and few between, and many communities have skate-proofed public spaces.

Rob Dyrdek once said that "Driving around late at night with lights, a generator, and saw to cut knobs off rails is not the way skateboarding is supposed to be."

Enter the Skate Plaza Foundation: "Don't build a skatepark. Build a park to skate in. Build a skate plaza."


All of which remind me of street-level views of the world:

Satan's Laundromat : a Brooklyn-based photolog with an emphasis on strange signage, urban decay, and general weirdness (via the ever curious Jean).

Monday, November 10, 2003

Running away with the circus

I'll be back in a week!

What to read until then? Choose.

Saturday, November 8, 2003


An invitation from Ashley Benigno:

Grid blogging aims to investigate the potentials of a distributed media production model spread across blogosphere nodes. It seeks to ignite attention on specific topics at set times through variegated voices. A kind of decentralised flash mobbing for the mind, if you like.
Decentralisation is key here. Unlike single collaborative blogging structures that unite discussions under the same URL, Grid blogging is about synchronized guerrilla publishing attacks carried out across a series of online locations. It respects and heightens the individual voice within a media-wise choir. It allows for idea-jamming and mosaics of diverse perspectives to emerge unfettered.

Temporary in nature, the first grid blog is set to happen on December 1. The topic is the "brand". Interpret it as you like, from the comfort of your own blog. As critique, as recollection, as original content, as link-fest or visual interpretation. Whatever. Join in and help us discover where we can lead this dance.

Street Level Conditions

Public Lot: Walking Tours of Privately Owned Public Space in Manhattan (Thanks Liz.)

ComNET - introduces easily operated hand-held computers to community organizations so that troublesome street level conditions can be recorded and tabulated quickly, easily and accurately. Then reports are produced electronically for the government agencies that are responsible for correcting the problems. Community representatives track how conditions change over time. (Thanks Jonah.)


Network space

Disconnected Urbanism. "The great offense of the cell phone in public is not the intrusion of its ring, although that can be infuriating when it interrupts a tranquil moment. It is the fact that even when the phone does not ring at all, and is being used quietly and discreetly, it renders a public place less public. It turns the boulevardier into a sequestered individual, the flaneur into a figure of privacy. And suddenly the meaning of the street as a public place has been hugely diminished." (via Perl's Architecture Weblog)

Hmm. My advisor has referred to flâneurie as space-time psychosis ... But do mobile technologies cripple the flâneur? (Warning: bad segue ahead) Not if we recall the connections between flâneurie, appropriation and consumption ...

In The Guardian, William Mitchell discusses his new book and suggests "we should no longer think of ourselves as 'fixed, discrete individuals', but as nodes in a network. 'I am part of the networks and the networks are part of me. I am visible to Google. I link, therefore I am'." (Wow, he forgot to say "We are Borg!")

And guess what nodes - er, people - get to do? Buy more stuff. Guess what cities are good for? Consumption.

"In the past, people had to go to a certain place in the city to get certain services. Now, through mobile technology, those services can come to them and they can reconfigure the world to their needs ... These ideas feed into the projects Mitchell is leading at the Media Lab. Take the concept car his students are developing with architect Frank Gehry and General Motors. The car will be 'an intelligent interface to the resources the city offers. Like a good London taxi driver, it should know what you want, know what the city has to offer, and have the capacity to relate the two. It's as much electronics and information systems as mechanical engineering and styling'."

But to cut Mitchell some slack, he does make one interesting point: "You can't draw a clear distinction between the subjects of surveillance and those who employ surveillance. Increasingly, we are all both."

Update: Just read Situating Cyborgs: Technology & Psychogeography by Liz Wilkinson, "attempting to map out points of affinity between conceptualisations of city space, psychogeography, cyberculture and feminist theorisations of the posthuman." Interesting.

Update 19/11/03: Mitchell gave a talk last night to the UK Architectural Association and Alex Wilkie reports to the nettime mailing list: "So what do WE get? New places - such as parks (what real function did they play anyway) - to find jobs, out of the panoptic gaze of the corporeal boss (forget sys admin track and trace here). New places - such as canteens (such as one I was tapping in...) to re-purpose as studio-work spaces (this should be done with a tablet pc by the way). And then ... perhaps ... dispersed forms of grassroots demonstration (he showed some well chosen googled-images here). And that was it. I was hoping Bill++ would provide some urbanista insights into political and ethical sites but grassroots was really it." Update: Kevin Hamilton responds.

Hmm. Echoes my frustrations when I heard him speak last month.

Mitchell speaks again tonight at the Tate. Stay tuned for updates.

Update: Matt Jones' notes here and Matt Webb's discussion here.

Friday, November 7, 2003

In search of difference

Each year I have to teach my students the difference between critique and criticism - a fine line for some, but academically quite different. Right now, I am interested in a quick-and-dirty critique - in, for lack of a better term, deconstructing a particular web site with which I've become rather fascinated. What this means is that I am not interested in discussing (re: criticising) the individual authors, their personalities or their intentions (as if I could know those anyway). But in doing so, neither do I mean to suggest an objective critique - those who read this site should know I do not believe in objective knowledge.

So why the disclaimer? Well, I want to write about a site that has explicitly positioned itself as interested in women's lived experiences - and anytime we start talking about women as a category, it opens up all sorts of weirdness, and I want to make my position clear. But more specifically I want to write about what comes to mind when I read posts from this site.

I'm talking about "a celebration of women's contributions to computing; a place to spotlight women's contributions as well point out new opportunities and challenges for women in the computing field."

Personally, I self-identify as feminist and was most marked by my riot-grrl phase (this also points to my age and girlhood inspirations). But I also like this Rebecca West quote: "I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat." All of which is to say that I am interested in women's experiences, and am happy to read more women's voices on technology.

Given my firm conviction that there is no-such-thing as (the essential) WOMAN, I shouldn't be surprised that I don't recognise myself - and all sorts of other women - in this weblog. What I mean is that, despite the explicit claim to represent many voices, I don't see much difference on this site. In other words, the site content strikes me as pretty straight, white and upper-middle class.

Now before anyone freaks out, let me say that being straight, white and upper-middle class isn't bad - in fact, I'm pretty straight, white and upper-middle class myself. But I also believe that "whiteness" is as much a constructed category as any other dealing with sex or race or other imagined homogeneities. I mean, seriously, what scientist would still say there is such a thing as race if we're talking genetics? We are clearly a planet of mongrels and hybrids!

[In Playing in the Dark, Toni Morrison asked "What Africanism became for, and how it functioned in, the literary imagination is of paramount interest because it may be possible to discover, through a closer look at literary 'blackness,' the nature--even the cause--of literary 'whiteness.' What is it for? What parts do the invention and development of whiteness play in the construction of what is loosely described as 'American'?" More provocative academics ask Who Invented White People? or claim that treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.]

But getting back to misbehaving - where are the women of colour? Where is the discussion of "digital divides" in terms of globalisation, internationalism or ethnicity? Where can I read about the experiences of women in tech who deal not only with matters of gender but also ethnicity, politics and economics? And I don't just mean lip-service ... for well over a decade, bell hooks has been absolutely brilliant when it comes to taking white academics to task on postmodern politics of difference.

And discussions of difference shouldn't end with ethnicity and class. Where can I read non-heterosexual voices? In her 1990 book Gender Trouble, Judith Butler challenged us to reimagine compulsory heterosexual feminism, and yet lesbian, bisexual, transgender and transsexual voices still remain marginalised. I would also like to hear how sexualities feature in the lives of women in tech, since queer perspectives on technology are far and few between.

But of course, it isn't reasonable for to be all these things - and I'm not saying that I think they should. What I am saying is that the web site content so far - and many, but not all, of the reader comments - is remarkably homogenous. In other words, I most often sense one voice in many shades, not many voices. I want these other voices to speak up - and I question the capacity of a forum like misbehaving to encourage these discussions. But then again, I also question the capacity of any site seeking to represent "women."

I'd love to hear your thoughts...

Thursday, November 6, 2003


Technology by the people, for the people

MySociety is officially up and running, and already with some interesting proposals to boot! will support projects that have three broad attributes:

1. Founded on electronic networks
2. Real world impact (increased social capital, decreased social exclusion)
3. Low or zero cost scalability

(via VoxPolitics)

Wednesday, November 5, 2003

First snow

Today the weather people forecast 5-10 cm of snow and 15-25 mm of rain. Apparently it will look like this:

horoscope: wet snow will make you cold and wet today then horoscope: sharp ice pellets will hurt you today

Today I will buy a pair of tundra waterproof boots bought a pair of icebug banff crawlers. They rock!

Cities & technologies catch-up

DAWN - the Dublin Ad hoc Wireless Network: "a prototype 4th Generation Mobile Network."

Mobile Bristol: "As you walk through the city a diverse range of digital media experiences – such as soundscapes, games, interactive media and art – will bring the city alive, enriching the ambience of the physical places."

Transmediale 2003 installations: Cecile Babiole's Circulez y’a rien a voir - "a kind of surveillance device in public space that allows the spectator to generate images and sounds by his moves in front of the projection space" and Heath Bunting’s BorderXing Guide "primarily consists of documentation of walks that traverse European national boundaries illegally."

Creativity and the City conference - some interesting sounding workshops, like The city in the information society and Public space: the urban battlefield, but little information online.

re:public international art and culture project (psychogeography in Riga after May's psy.geo.conflux in NYC)

(all courtesy Doors of Perception)

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Peculiar intimacies and two-way radio phones

Some time ago, I posted on my "strong attraction to the staccato movement of the email conversation, caused by message lag-time. All that groping about, anticipating articulation, time to imagine..." and a recent m2m post on silent dating got me thinking about this again - which in turn reminded me of an excellent conversation I had with Allison Woodruff and Eric Paulos at UbiComp last month about two-way radio phones.

Push-to-talk phones are unusual in that they allow people to project their voices without the certainty that they will be heard - not unlike whispering to a lover in the dark, not knowing if they are asleep and unable to hear you. (Oh, the things I have said in those moments...)

This type of mobile communication is interesting to me because of its peculiar intimacies:

I can speak a fleeting thought and it is possible that my thought remains fleeting and eventually dissipates into nothingness - definitely not recorded, and possibly not even heard. (What a wonderful antidote to unflinching and unforgiving machine memory - and even to the violence of human memory!) But it is also possible that my voice is heard as a whisper out-of-the-blue and from far away, ephemeral yet tangibly present - a sort of resonant-Anne, like being glimpsed but not seen. And just as a lover can feign being asleep, so too other radio-phone listeners can pretend to have not heard, or choose not to acknowledge. After all, not all words deserve or require response in order to be meaningful.

But maybe I just like radio phones because they encourage the sharing of daily minutiae, those experiences that mark us without leaving obvious traces ...

Update: I should have mentioned that Allison's research group at PARC has done some really interesting work around social, mobile audio spaces, including a study of college-age push-to-talk users.

See: Media affordances of a mobile push-to-talk communication service (pdf) and
The Mad Hatter’s Cocktail Party: A Social Mobile Audio Space Supporting Multiple Simultaneous Conversations (pdf)

"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music"

Forever entranced by combinations of space and sound, I really enjoyed reading Jill Walker share her experience with Natasha Barrett's ADSONORE biologically-inspired sound installation: "Perhaps I was hearing the actions of sonic antibodies?" Sounds lovely.

And on the topic of sound, I was reading about Résonances 2003 which took place last month in Paris...

Sound installations included:

Topologies de l'instant (n° 7) espaces concrets et espaces imaginaires se jouxtent, se heurtent, se mêlent, et se recomposent. (photos)

Bandonéon une balade musicale libre dans une allégorie urbaine composée d'éléments lumineux ... L'architecture de la ville constitue une partition que l'utilisateur interprète au gré de son parcours, de ses mouvements, de son inspiration. (photos)

Cartographie instrumentale postule qu'un instrument de musique est un territoire, que l'on peut explorer et représenter.

And I was introduced to the work of Jean-Christmas Montagné and the amazing Art Sensitif:
Historique de l'interaction sensitive
Nouvelles formes d'interactivité
Des oeuvres au coeur de la cité

Also EBOMAN's samplemadness and the super-cool skrtZz PEN.

(PS - that's an Aldous Huxley quote in the post title.)

Sunday, November 2, 2003

Re/constructing ideas of place


The project involves the construction of a wall which is not a wall: a transparent boundary which frames and reflects the existing site, which transforms to provide temporary spaces within the street scape of the city which are simultaneously inside and outside, public and private. A fragmented glass wall is positioned in relation to an existing street facade, acting as both frame and window. New and old are superimposed, reflections of inhabitants and passersby are superimposed. The walls slide upon a scaffold-like structure to accommodate immediate and temporary needs; Rooms open into the street. The street becomes a room within the city, a communal space. The structure multiplies throughout Wall Street, a fragmented wall of transparent panels which recall an image of silicon chips, a billboard and advertisement of commerce and trade superimposed with community events; exhibitions, meetings and social gatherings ... The significance of the prototype lies within its inherent ability to adapt to the particulars of site and place, heightening the possibility for individual and cultural expression. The prototypical ability to morph with site and place offers a strategy which goes above the imperialistic imposition of grafting an idealized form or function to a site. As physical space is increasingly redefined by electronic media and globalization increases, the site-specific prototype carries the potential of a new individualism to the masses.

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